A reconsideration of Britain’s place in the world is necessary. But this paper fails to meet the challenges of the 21st century
The integrated review offers a nostalgic – at times, even anachronistic – response to the challenges of the 21st century. Its intent is laudable: acknowledging that attempting to defend the status quo is not enough, and seeking to carve out a path ahead. It recognises the multiple threats that the UK faces – from future pandemics to cyber-attacks – and the need for serious investment in science and technology. But overall, “global Britain” offers a hazy vision of a country that is looking east of Suez once more, wedded to the symbolic power of aircraft carriers, and contemplating a nuclear response to cyberthreats.
The policy paper is in essence a response to three big shifts: the rise of China, the related but broader decline of the existing global order, and Brexit. Two of these confront democracies around the world. But the last is a self-inflicted wound, which the government appears determined to deepen. And the need to deal with the first two is not in itself a solution to the third, as this policy paper sometimes seems to imagine.